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AWS faces Elasticsearch lawsuit for trademark infringement

In a new lawsuit, Elasticsearch alleges that AWS committed trademark infringement and false advertising in connection with services associated with Elasticsearch, the popular search and analytics platform.

Elasticsearch has sued AWS for trademark infringement and false advertising in connection with the cloud giant's recently released version the widely used Elasticsearch distributed analytics and search engine.

Elasticsearch Inc., or Elastic, is based on the open-source Lucene project and Elastic serves as originator and primary maintainer. Tensions flared in March when AWS, along with Expedia and Netflix, launched Open Distro for Elasticsearch. The release is fully open source compared with Elastic's version and was actually prompted by Elastic's weaving too much proprietary code into the main line over time, according to AWS.

AWS had previously offered AWS Elasticsearch, a managed service that used the main codeline, since 2015. In March, Elastic founder and CEO Shay Banon characterized Open Distro for Elasticsearch as just one of many forks made by third parties in the past, and expressed confidence Elastic would survive, although its stock took a hit after AWS's announcement.

Now, the Elasticsearch lawsuit appears to have both a defensive and offensive intent.

Elastic contends that the branding for both the original Amazon Elasticsearch Service and Open Distro for Elasticsearch violates its trademark, according to the Elasticsearch lawsuit, which was filed Sept. 27 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

"Due to Amazon's misleading use of the Elasticsearch mark, consumers of search and analytics software are, at least, likely to be confused as to whether Elastic sponsors or approves AESS [Amazon Elasticsearch Service] and Open Distro," the complaint states.

"Amazon's misleading use of Elasticsearch also misrepresents the nature, characteristics, and/or qualities of AESS because, on information and belief, AESS (1) disables certain functionality available from Elastic's Elasticsearch product, and (2) includes software code not offered by Elastic in any Elasticsearch product," the complaint states. "Amazon's use of the Elasticsearch mark therefore constitutes false advertising."

AWS has also wrongly represented that AESS constitutes a "great partnership" between Elastic and AWS, according to the suit, which references an Oct. 2, 2015 Twitter message posted by Amazon CTO Werner Vogels.

"Neither at the time of that tweet nor at any relevant time has there ever been a 'partnership' between Elastic and Amazon with respect to AESS," the complaint states.

"Amazon's wrongful activities have caused Elastic irreparable injury," it adds. Elastic wants the court to grant a permanent injunction against AWS's use of its trademark, as well as assorted damages and reimbursement of legal costs, according to the complaint.

AWS had not filed a response to the Elasticsearch' lawsuit in court as of Oct. 1. An AWS spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Elastic's allegations. An Elastic representative said the company would have no further comment beyond the suit

Elastic's move denotes commercial open source frictions

The legal flap highlights what tensions can be raised when a massive player such as AWS seeks to commercialize a popular open-source project maintained by a smaller company. Moreover, AWS has drawn criticism in the past over the perception that it takes too much from open source projects while not giving back enough.

As it happens, Elastic has and continues to offer its own Elasticsearch Service hosted on AWS, available for purchase through the AWS marketplace. A central question raised by the lawsuit is whether AWS's alleged trademark infringement and false advertising could muddy the waters for potential customers.

Open source and intellectual property are not best friends.
Holger MuellerAnalyst, Constellation Research

Elastic offers Elastic stack, which bundles Elasticsearch along with open source products such as Kibana, for data visualization, and the Logstash data pipeline. It released a new version of Elastic SIEM, its security information and event management platform, this week.

The company has also made other defensive moves recently. In early September, it filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the developers of Search Guard, claiming the open source security company had stolen proprietary code from Elastic. "Whether open source or proprietary, any responsible creator must protect their work," Elastic said on its blog.

Overall, commercializing open source is a persistently thorny problem, said Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research in Cupertino, Calif.

"Open source and intellectual property are not best friends," Mueller said. "One of the conflicts is, if you built assets on top of [open source], can it by itself become an IP asset?"

Next Steps

Elastic vs. AWS highlights open source monetization dilemma

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